The Nation's Pulse

Torments Ending in Tragedy

As our world becomes coarser.

By 10.12.10

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"Forty-four percent of boys say they've seen sexual images of girls in their school, and about 15 percent of them are disseminating those images when they break up with the girls," explained Internet security specialist Parry Aftab on NBC's Today show.

The 15 percent is a guess, the ones we know about or the ones who admitted it. The actual number might be higher.

On July 3, 2008, Jessie Logan came home from the funeral of a boy who had committed suicide and killed herself.

Jessie's mother found her hanging in a closet. She was 18, a high school senior -- very pretty, intelligent and planning to attend the University of Cincinnati to study graphic design.

She made the mistake of "sexting" nude photos of herself to her boyfriend. When they broke up, he forwarded the photos to other girls in the school.

The girls who received the photos conducted a relentless campaign of harassment and bullying, calling Jessie a "whore," etc., and throwing things at her. She spent a lot of time during her final year of high school hiding in stalls in the girls' bathrooms.

Megan Meier, 13, also was found hanging in her bedroom closet. Her handsome friend on MySpace, "Josh Evans," a boy she'd never met but flirted with online, had sent her some nasty messages. He said he heard she was "mean." He wrote that "the world would be a better place" without her.

"Josh" never existed. He was a fake character created by a woman, 47, who lived four houses away, the mother of one of Megan's former friends. It was a game for her, a way to inflict emotional distress with anonymity.

Megan's father found her after rushing upstairs, shortly after seeing how upset she was after leaving her computer following a malicious exchange of e-mail banter. "I had this God-awful feeling and I ran up to her room and she had hung herself in the closet."

Megan Meier died the next day, three weeks before her 14th birthday.

Wrote Megan to the fictitious "Josh" in one of their final e-mail exchanges, "You're the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over."

Last month, Seth Walsh, 13, hanged himself from a tree in his backyard in Tehachapi, Calif. He died after nine days on life support. "Friends said Seth was picked on for years because he was gay," reported KGET-TV in Bakersfield.

Local police investigators, reporting that Seth was taunted on the day he hanged himself, said that no charges would be filed in the death of the bullied 13-year-old.

"Several of the kids we talked to broke down in tears," said Police Chief Jeff Kermode, speaking of the students who were guilty of the harassment. "They never expected an outcome such as this."

On Sept. 22, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly recorded and publicly broadcast a video of Clementi "making out with a dude."

Billy Lucas, 15, and Asher Brown, 13, also killed themselves in September. Both were gay and both were the targets of harassment and bullying in school.

Lucas was found by his mother hanging in the family's barn. Eighth-grader Asher Brown shot himself in the head.

The day before Asher Brown's suicide, a student tripped him as he walked down a flight of stairs at his school. As he was trying to retrieve his books, another student kicked the books away and pushed him down the remaining flight of stairs. He was a cute little kid -- a great smile, smart, full of potential, the kind of youngster any parent should have been proud of. "It is never too late to give up our prejudices," said Henry David Thoreau.

Wrote Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990), Swiss playwright and novelist, "Without tolerance, our world turns into hell."

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.